Status: 27/09/2023, 12:56 p.m.
By: Daniel Dillmann
No election is complete without scandal. Before the upcoming state election, we take a look at the biggest missteps in Hessian politics. The ranking:
Frankfurt am Main - It has a long tradition in Hesse. There is hardly an election in Hesse, hardly a female prime minister and certainly no election campaign without scandals, blunders and absurdities.
It's hard to keep track of all the scandals and raunchy stories from Hesse. But help is coming! We summarize the biggest affairs, the worst embarrassments and the dark chapters of Hessian politics for you in our ranking.
10th place: The financial scandal surrounding Albert Osswald
In 1969, the SPD politician Albert Osswald became Prime Minister of Hesse. In 10th place in our ranking, however, we are more concerned with its connections to the Hessische Landesbank. In the 1970s, Helaba was involved in a whole series of questionable real estate deals. Whether it was the "Schwabylon" in Munich or the Sonnenring in Frankfurt-Sachsenhausen, Helaba was there and made billions in losses in a short time.
The Hessian state parliament is drowning in a flood of scandals. Our ranking provides an overview (montage, symbolic image). © imago
Osswald was Chairman of the Board of Directors of Helaba. In the course of the 1970s, more and more details came to light, which increased the political pressure on the prime minister and his party. The SPD lost the 1974 state election, and the CDU became the strongest force in the country for the first time. The coalition of SPD and FDP remained in place thanks to a slim majority in Wiesbaden and Osswald became Prime Minister. But his reputation was tarnished and two years later Osswald drew the necessary consequences: On the day of the 1976 Bundestag election - shortly after the polling stations closed - he announced his resignation and thus assumed political responsibility for the scandal.
Frankfurt's skyline disappears behind a black bar, symbolizing the large ranking of Hessian political scandals. © IMAGO/Christoph Hardt
9th place: Holger Börner and the "roof battens" scandal
Osswald was succeeded in the office of Prime Minister by SPD party comrade Holger Börner, who in turn is responsible for 9th place in our ranking of Hessian political scandals. The trained concrete worker was notorious for his pithy sayings. "My name is Börner, I weigh 250 pounds (about 113 kg) and, if I'm angry, twice as much," the Berliner Zeitung quoted him as saying in an obituary.
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Börner preferred not only rhetoric, but also politics with a steam hammer. He had the runway west of Frankfurt Airport expanded against the largest demonstrations in German post-war history - and in this context produced the legendary "roof batten scandal". When asked how he felt about the opponents of the expansion, the then Prime Minister of Hesse said: "I regret that my high state office forbids me to punch the guys in the face myself. In the past, on the construction site, such things were done with the roof batten." Nevertheless, Börner made his peace with the environmental movement and formed Germany's first red-green state government in 1986. As Prime Minister, Börner swore in Joschka Fischer as Minister of State for the Environment and Energy.
8th place: Joschka Fischer, first Green "sneaker minister" in Hesse
Fischer's swearing-in secures 8th place in our ranking of Hessian political scandals. What would hardly trigger a storm in a glass of water today occupied the whole republic at that time. Joschka Fischer, a college dropout and taxi driver, became the first Green Party politician to take on government responsibility. The then 38-year-old took office in Wiesbaden in sneakers. His appearance with his hand raised in oath, casual jacket and white Nike sneakers earned him the nickname "sneaker minister". The footwear that has become so famous is now exhibited in the German Leather Museum in Offenbach.
Ex-Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer with a famous sneaker and the ex-mayor of Berlin, Eberhard Diepgen. Fischer and his footwear make it to 8th place in our ranking. © Andreas Gebhard / dpa
The sneaker incident did not hurt his career. Joschka Fischer moved from Wiesbaden to Berlin, became a member of the Bundestag and finally foreign minister and vice-chancellor under Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.
7th place: The unsolved murder of Heinz-Herbert Karry
Also in the 1980s, the darkest political scandal occurred in the ranking, and again the name Joschka Fischer is mentioned. We are talking about the unsolved murder of FDP politician Heinz-Herbert Karry. Like Börner, the then Deputy Prime Minister of Hesse fought for the airport and pushed through the construction of the West Runway in 1981 as Hesse's Minister of Economic Affairs. He was considered an advocate of nuclear energy and was a member of the federal executive committee of the Liberals.
On May 11, 1981, Karry was shot dead in his sleep in his home in Frankfurt's Seckbach district. Shortly thereafter, a letter claiming responsibility from a left-wing autonomous group called "Revolutionary Cells" appeared. They only wanted to hurt the FDP politician, his death was "the great - not calculated - coincidence." To this day, Karry's murder has not been solved beyond doubt. Even the Federal Prosecutor General at the time did not seem to have been convinced of the perpetrators of the otherwise rather inconspicuous "Revolutionary Cells". It's just the most likely explanation, he told an interview.
After the death, an informant told the police that the murder weapon had been transported by left-wing terrorist Hans-Joachim Klein in Joschka Fischer's car. Fischer then explained that he had lent the car to Klein. Nothing could be proven to the future foreign minister.
6th place: Boris Rhein and the "Klapperfeld" prison
The first scandal of the incumbent Prime Minister of Hesse dates back to his time as Hesse's Minister of Science: Boris Rhein's nocturnal visit to Frankfurt's Klapperfeld Cultural Centre.
The left-wing autonomous center is housed in a former police prison in downtown Frankfurt. On a September evening in 2021, Rhein and a group of about ten men, some of them drunk, paid a visit to the already closed facility and loudly demanded to be allowed into the building. The members of the association present pointed out the opening hours to Rhein and his entourage. The CDU politician is said to have referred to the financing of the cultural center by public money and "loudly demanded access," as those present reported to the Frankfurter Rundschau. At some point, Rhein gave in and retrospectively downplayed his nocturnal excursion in a press release as an idea to "take a look at the locations".
5th place: Ypsilanti and the Left
In 6th place in the ranking of political scandals in Hesse is Andrea Ypsilanti and her attempt to form a red-red-green government in 2008. The SPD politician led her party to a great success in the state elections and ended up just behind the CDU, which lost its absolute majority. Both parties declared themselves the winners of the election. With 5.1 percent, the Left Party entered the Hessian state parliament for the first time.
During the election campaign, Ypsilanti had categorically ruled out any cooperation with the rising left. But that changed in no time at all. Five weeks after the election, Ypsilanti announced talks with the Left Party. Resistance arose in her party and negotiations were broken off. CDU Prime Minister Roland Koch remained in office in an acting capacity and without a majority. A second attempt by Ypsilanti to form a red-red-green government failed again because of her party and plunged the country into a tangible political crisis. All parties finally agreed on new elections. Ypsilanti took responsibility and decided not to run for re-election.
4th place: Roland Koch and the burqas
The CDU won the new elections. Prime Minister Roland Koch was able to remain in office. In the election campaign for the Hesse election, he had bet on one horse above all: the fear of Islam. The CDU/CSU hardliner made a public impression, as he had done four years earlier when he railed against dual citizenship. This time he brought up a burqa ban in Hessian schools. One can no longer stand idly by and watch the development, Koch said.
In 2008, Roland Koch danced with Ann Katrin Linsenhoff, then chairwoman of the board of the German Sports Aid Foundation, who - fortunately for Koch - did not wear a burqa. © Imago
The only problem was that such a development did not really take place. As several critics of Koch and numerous media emphasized in the immediate aftermath, at the time of his proposal there was not a single Hessian student who attended school in a burqa. Koch initiated a ghost discussion in order to score points in the election campaign, the critics raged. The one who had been scolded in this way did not care about the accusations. Even if there is no problem with burqas, this is "no reason not to become active," said the CDU politician.
3rd place: Roland Koch and black money
Roland Koch ruled in Hesse for eleven years - long enough to make it into our ranking with a second scandal: the black money affair of the Hesse CDU. Since the beginning of the 1980s, the Landes-Union had deposited money in Liechtenstein. Up to 20 million marks are said to have been raised. Whenever there was a shortage of money in the following years, people helped themselves to the black money pot. This continued in the era under Roland Koch. When the matter comes to light, the prime minister denies any involvement and promises "the most brutal possible investigation".
The origin of the money is still unknown.
2nd place: Boris Rhein, the Bild and the Hells Angels
Koch was succeeded by his close confidant Volker Bouffier, and he was followed by Boris Rhein. The incumbent Prime Minister received his office through the resignation of Bouffier. Before that, Rhein was already Hessian Minister of Culture and before that Minister of the Interior. He also wanted to become Lord Mayor of Frankfurt, but failed because of Peter Feldmann.
In the run-up to this election, Rhein presented himself as a tough law-and-order politician and accompanied a Bild reporter to Frankfurt's notorious Bahnhofsviertel. There, a brothel operator complained to the CDU politician about his suffering. In retrospect, the businessman turned out to be a member of the rocker group Hells Angels. Shortly thereafter, Der Spiegel reported on a phone call between two rockers in which one of the two had praised Rheins for help in disputes over street prostitution in Frankfurt's Bahnhofsviertel. Rhein rejected the allegations. "I have no contacts with the Hells Angels, nor do I support this group or make arrangements with them," he said at the time. In September 2011, the Hessian Minister of the Interior issued a ban on two Hells Angels associations.
The 1st police station in Frankfurt: Center of a Hessian police scandal that has made it to 1st place in the ranking. © imago
1st place: Hesse's police scandals
No. 1 in the ranking is a political scandal in three acts. This time, however, there is no single person in the leading role. First place was secured by the three-part series of suspected right-wing networks in the Hessian police in 2021 - for an overview as a list:
- Threatening letters from the "NSU 2.0": 34 people and 60 institutions receive threatening letters, signed with the abbreviation "NSU 2.0". Shortly before, data of numerous of these people were retrieved from a computer of the Hessian police. Interior Minister Peter Beuth as well as any suspicion.
- Missing weapons: Hundreds of weapons disappear from the Frankfurt evidence chamber. A former police officer is being investigated. The man with connections to the right-wing scene is also said to have illegally queried data from police computers. The whereabouts of the weapons remain unclear.
- Right-wing chat groups: A right-wing extremist chat group is exposed, in which six officers are said to have sent each other Hitler videos and swastika pictures. The public prosecutor's office brings charges. This was discovered because one of the participants was logged into the computer in the 2018st Frankfurt district in August 1, from which personal data of the Frankfurt lawyer Seda Basay-Yildiz was queried, as the Frankfurter Rundschau reported.